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A startled shriek ripped across the otherwise still confines of Saunders Springs Nature Preserve in Radcliff on Saturday evening, followed by a terrified scream.
The rustle of leaves and snap of branches noted hurried footfalls as a yammering code of groans, roars, gurgles and growls immersed the woods.
Along one of the walking trails inside the preserve, a stooped woman in a bathrobe shambled down the track. She carried a curling iron in one hand and a fleshy appendage in another — her hair a shabby mess and her intentions less than honorable.
As runners broke through the trees into the open path, they scampered into her sight line and she yelled her disapproval, swatting at their waists to seize dangling orange tags.
One group of fatigued runners moved slower as they passed her. Noticing their tags were gone, the woman, layered in zombie makeup, held up the severed hand to slap a few high fives.
The scene was a comedic break in the veneer of horror for the first annual Saunders Springs Zombie 5K walk or run, the proceeds from which benefit construction of a welcome center on the property and the Derby Chapter Warrant Officer Association’s scholarship fund. Prizes were awarded at the end of the run to those who outsmarted the zombies.
Radcliff residents Kelly Dean and Michael Michalski described themselves as “fun runners” more than zombie enthusiasts and said they were intrigued by the opportunity to tackle the course.
“(It’s my) first zombie run,” Dean said. “A lot of mud races, but first zombie run.”
The duo said the run was an interesting way to drum up awareness for Saunders Springs and raise money for the center.
Tasha Parks was accompanied by her personal trainer, Jeremy Blair, who works at Anytime Fitness. Parks said she “runs all the time.”
She had been coaxing Blair to join her for a run and his schedule was flexible enough this weekend to honor her request.
“I felt I was mentally prepared to do it,” he said. Blair said the clutter of zombies awaiting them was an interesting twist on a normal 5K.
“Hopefully I just make it back with all my tags,” Parks said. “… And I’d like to finish in under 30 minutes.”
After the run, a red-faced Blair and Parks caught their breaths and recounted stories with others. Parks failed to hang on to her tags, but Blair quickly reported she set a personal running record. Previously, Parks’ personal best was a little more than 29 minutes, but she shaved nearly two minutes off that time during the zombie run, he said.
“I’m very, very proud of her efforts,” Blair said.
“It’s all because of my trainer,” Parks replied. She said it was the most difficult 5K of her life.
Blair said he needed an extra burst to evade some of the zombies. He took a spill, banged up his knee and nearly tackled a child during the run.
“Just when you think you’re clear of them, here they come again,” he said.
Julie Rhinehart, a Vine Grove resident, was covered in a blood-spattered sweatshirt and camouflage pants. Her hair was crazily scattered and matted in leaves. Zombies got placed in makeup atop the porch of one of the log cabins entering the preserve.
Rhinehart was one of the first zombies runners faced, and she snatched handfuls of tags as she blocked the lane of traffic to cut off participants, growling as she went.
Rhinehart said she was thrilled to participate.
“I guess you could say I like zombies, and I’m helping out a friend,” she said.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 William Core, a Fort Knox soldier who coordinated the run, said he was happy with the event but hoped for a stronger turnout. However, he said it was the inaugural run so interest likely will build over time. Core said more than 50 runners pre-registered and he expected some day-of-race sign-ups.
Martisse Best, an attorney at Fort Knox who described herself as an occasional runner, said she signed up “on a whim” after seeing a flier for the run. The difficulty of the course and the well-placed lurking of the zombies provided an adrenaline rush that made for a better workout, Best said.
Best especially was impressed with some of the female zombies, particularly a few who were dressed in 1980s attire.
“I was like, the ’80s are back,” she said with a chuckle. Other runners overheard Best and chimed in, saying the female zombies utilized a smart strategy to hem in and trap runners.
With a less bumpy course, more zombies and a stronger marketing presence, Best said she believes the zombie run could turn into a massive hit.
“I think this has the potential to be very big,” she said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or email@example.com.